If you haven’t heard, we are excited over a new group that Chris has formed, called Gnomies. Gnomies is a group of informed, electronics-minded folks who desired a venue in which to share valuable information. One of the members of the group posed an inquiry as to what software others in the group might recommend for him to use in reference to building a home. As could be expected, the group generously responded with ideas for different software programs and where to find such software.

Of course, with my being frugal-minded by nature, my curiosity was piqued by the software that was being offered for free. In my mind, anything free is good, but when it is free, one has to wonder just how well such a freebie works. Is it meant for simple designs, or is it expandable for more elaborate home building projects? But being free was not my only consideration in pursuing such software; it just so happens that, once upon a time, I sold new home construction. During that pre-computer period of my life, my job, besides sales, was to modify — by hand — any necessary changes to existing client blueprints.

Before exploring these different software products, I made a mental list of what they would need in order to make them the most user friendly.

  • Ease of use: In my opinion, software is a useless commodity if the ‘average’ person cannot understand how it works or how to make simple design changes.
  • Help menus and FAQs: How well do the help menus function, and how good is the FAQ site?
  • Technical support: Make sure it’s available for the free version.
  • Type of technical support: Email, phone, or other, including forums or support groups.

Here are the software products I examined (they are not listed in any particular order):

Sweet Home 3D

Sweet Home 3D is free, open source software that offers the user a choice between a Web browser implementation of the software, or the ability to download the software (recommended) to your computer system. One of the best things about Sweet Home 3D is that the program supports Windows, OS X, and Linux (32-bit and 64-bit). Upon analysis, I found the software easy to use and it was able to complete minor designs right away. In addition, I was impressed with the software’s website, which offered a highly evolved FAQ section where I learned that, under Windows, the software provided support for OSes from Windows 98 through Windows 7. In fact, it actually provides a video tutorial within the forum and a blog to keep the user up to date with timely tips.

Floor Planner

Free Home Design SoftwareFloor Planner, another free building and design software program, does not require the user to download anything to their computer. Instead, the programmers have designed the program so that all of your work is done online. I prefer this method since it does not require that any additional software be added to my computer system. The main feature I like about Floor Planner is its ease of use, however, the drawback is that the basic three-story plan is limited to one design per user. You may ask how the software would ever know if you went in and requested another plan, but that’s simple: You must register in order to use Floor Planner.

One of the fun features included in Floor Planner was its demo that allowed me to play with the software before I started trying to figure out how things worked, or didn’t work. The demo included a three-story home with furniture that allowed me to move walls and furnishings at will. After using the demo for about 20 minutes, I was able to maneuver the software effectively and also to save the project for later use. Floor Planner was just fun to use and I highly recommend it.

The free version, as well as the paid version, have their own forum, tips and tricks section, a tour, and and easy-to-follow tutorial.

Autodesk Homestyler

Autodesk Homestyler is a free home planner that is limited to online use, but it offers a unique template feature that will be enticing for those among us who like a helping hand in getting started with a building plan. The software includes a variety of templates (though limited) that are designed to fit the needs of the majority of folks out there who are looking to build or re-design a new or existing home.

One of the pluses of this software is its simplicity; its templates make it a breeze to create a one-level home consisting of a living area, a kitchen, a guest bath, and an office. For the outside area, I was also allowed to throw in a pool, an outside deck, and a garden area. Another advantage of this software is its intuitive nature that makes it perfect for the novice user. Throw in its support forums, as well as its extensive six-category help system — which includes a video playlist directory — and you have a winner. The video playlist directory offers the following features:

  • An on-demand video playlist for tutorials.
  • The introduction provides a quick tour of the user interface, account creation, login, and an opportunity for feedback.
  • The Start Designing feature includes drag and drop, an add design feature, the ability to add other levels, and landscaping.
  • The Refine your Design feature, with video, demonstrates what’s involved when adding a closet or an extra interior room while giving instruction into modifications, including object placement.
  • From the Share Your Design feature, you are able to post directly to Facebook, embed it on your own webpage, and export it as a JPEG, DWG, or RVT file.
  • The software’s Snapshots and 360 Panorama allows for basic, high-resolution, and 360 panorama snapshots of your design to provide a complete perspective.

So there you have it. Three good software programs, all for free, that you can use to design your new dream residence from the ground floor up. The placement of furniture allows you to see how your rooms will look before construction begins and it allows you to make minor adjustments in order to accommodate specific pieces of furniture or appliances that you may already own. In addition, some of these programs even allow you to garner the input of fellow enthusiasts before construction begins by allowing them to share their designs via social networking sites.

Comments welcome.